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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

September 28, 2011 at 11:17 AM

Bowl perks: Time to look a gift horse in the mouth

The Arizona Republic’s series this week examining workings of the Bowl Championship Series today focuses on gifts lavished on college officials by bowls, for the purpose of furthering relations with allied conferences and college officials.

It mentions another altruistic practice of the bowls that I find a head-scratcher – gift-giving to the players. The link:

First of all, a clarification brought to my attention by a friend in the bowl business. The Republic’s series notes – and it was quoted here Monday — that 41 percent of public-school teams that have gone to BCS bowls have lost money, and that the number would be 50 percent if those teams’ conferences didn’t subsidize the losses.

It’s a number that deserves illumination, because the big-money BCS bowls provide so much cash to participants that each school’s take is usually divided among members of the school’s conference (that’s long been the procedure in the Pac-10/12). That greatly trims the revenue going to the participating team, and often results in that team running in the red for the game. But, while you can debate whether a participant in such a game should be a money-loser, that’s a matter for conferences to sort out more than an issue for the big bowls.

(It is true, however, that participants in many of the lesser bowls with much smaller payouts often do lose money, contrary to a popular misconception that playing in bowl games is generally a big money-maker.)

Back to the bowl handouts to players: The NCAA allows player gifts of up to $500 value for the post-season games. Some of the swag last year included Microsoft XBox 360s, the Apple iPod Touch, and at one bowl, gift cards worth $420 at Best Buy.

So let’s get this straight: If an alum of your school hooks you up with an XBox 360, that’s a violation, but it’s OK if a bowl game does it? And, having made what amounts to an exception, the NCAA rule abruptly turns frumpy, stating the awards cannot be “sold, exchanged or assigned for another item of value.” (Ohio State can tell you about this part.)

There’s a competitive problem with this. How is it fair that Washington State, which is generally at a significant geographic disadvantage in recruiting, has to compete against, say, Cal, when it’s telling a prospect, “Here, we go to bowl games. And oh by the way, here’s some of the stuff you get when you go.”

Most prospects look at lot of different factors. But it’s clear that a program’s potential success is important. Isn’t it possible that tucked away in recruits’ minds – however far back – in that success component is gifts at bowl games? If it is, the NCAA is perpetuating a rich-get-richer paradigm.

I get that the post-season is supposed to be a celebration and the gifts are for a job well done (in many cases, the job-well-done is a 6-6 record and maybe 3-6 in the conference). And in the vein of a lot of others making out and players getting nothing, this is one small step for leveling the field. But the inherent inequity, sanctioned by the NCAA, is at best hypocritical.

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